With lots of cheap cat foods and confusing nutrients out there competing for the taste buds of your cat—not necessarily their health, it’s imperative to understand your cat’s natural diet and the right food to feed them.
Cats are predators and raw-meat eaters or carnivores. Unlike humans, their bodies are built for a strictly whole-meat diet that gives animal protein and other essential nutrients they need to survive.
Some cat owners prefer to feed their cats raw food in the belief that it’s the healthiest and most natural option for their domestic cats. However, feeding raw involves serious food contamination issues, strict hygiene standards, considerable time, and expense.
Processed pet food kills harmful bacteria in the meat ingredients, making it a safer, convenient, long-lasting, and cheaper option. The process can also remove some of the essential nutrients and bacteria from the food, depending on the quality of the diet.
We’ll provide the necessary guidance to enable you to choose the best cheap cat food containing essential nutrients for your cat’s health.
Our pick for the best cheap cat food is Iams Proactive Health. However, if you can’t contain your curiosity to know the remaining best inexpensive cat diets on review, here’s a quick outline:
- Iams Proactive Health—Best Overall
- 9Lives Daily Essentials Dry Cat Food—Best Dry Cat Food
- Purina Friskies Wet Cat Food Variety Pack—Best Wet Cat Food
- Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat Food—Best Grain-Free
- Diamond Naturals Indoor Cat Food—Best for Indoor Cats
- Fancy Feast Flaked Fish & Shrimp Feast Canned Cat Food—Best for Diabetic Cats
- AvoDerm Wild By Nature Cat Food—Best Natural Blend
- Stella & Chewy’s Chick Chick Chicken—Best Raw Diet
Essential Nutrients for Your Cat’s Health
Your cat is very similar to its wild ancestors and hasn’t evolved much. In the wild, cats’ prey-diet consists mainly of whole rodents, rabbits, birds, insects, frogs, and reptiles.
While some manufacturers claim to provide cheap cat food for your cat’s needs, bear in mind that a cheap cat diet doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality. Inexpensive good-quality food, containing suitably cooked muscle meat, organ meat, and bones can provide the following six essential nutrients for your cat’s natural diet and health.
- Animal protein: In addition to nine essential amino acids (building blocks of protein), cats need two more amino acids: taurine and arginine, which must be obtained from animal-tissue diets.
- Fats: These are the most energy-rich in the diet that helps to transport nutrients and conduct nerve impulses, with essential fatty acids necessary for skin and coat health, wound healing, and inflammation.
- Vitamins: Cats need 14 different vitamins but are unable to sufficiently produce some critical ones, including vitamins A, B3, and D.
- Minerals: Cats require specific minerals with which to flourish and need only be consumed in small quantities.
- Fiber: Animal-based fiber is a form of carbohydrate that plays a significant part in the way food moves through a cat’s digestive system.
- Water: This is the most critical nutrient for cats and essential to almost every chemical process.
Ingredients to Avoid in Cat Food
It’s recommended that you read the food label carefully before buying cat food to avoid ingredients that are bad for your cat’s health. In helping to point to the direction of healthier types of inexpensive good-quality cat food, the following three ingredients are to be avoided:
- Chemical preservatives: For example, BHT and BHA are potentially cancer-causing agents and found to cause kidney and liver damage in rats, according to California’s OEHHA.
- Meat by-products: The AAFCO defines these as, “Secondary products produced in addition to the principal product,” and they’re considered an inferior form of the protein that cats need.
- Cornmeal and carbohydrate fillers: Excess carbohydrate fillers are not good for cats, and some pet food can contain melamine, which, in combination with cyanuric acid, can cause lethal kidney stones and failure in cats, according to studies.
Guide to Buying the Best Cheap Cat Food
Now that you know the essential nutrients for your cat’s health and things to avoid in their diet, it’s important to follow the right guide to buying the best cheap cat food.
There’s no doubt that taking care of your cat can be costly. However, the priceless joy your kitty brings makes it a delight to want the best for them without considering buying a poor-quality diet that puts your cat’s health at risk.
It’s also crucial to know that cheap cat food doesn’t necessarily mean a poor-quality option. Inexpensive, good-quality food can contain the essential nutrients from cooked animal-based ingredients, including muscle meat, organ meat, and bones, to keep your cat healthy.
That also means that you don’t have to buy expensive food to keep your cat healthy and happy, so long as you know what to look for in relation to your cat’s food.
Dry vs Wet Cat Food
You may be looking to own a cat and researching on the best cheap cat food to feed your future kitty, or just trying out a new cheaper diet for your pet. It’s important to know that the type of cheap cat food you decide to buy will depend on whether your cat prefers wet, dry, or a mixture of both.
You should also know that wet food is a bit more expensive than dry food, but it’s worth the added cost. Water is the most important nutrient for cats and is obtained from their moist food. Additionally, dry food lasts somewhat longer than wet food once you open it.
When you know your cat’s preferences, you can focus on comparing diets that match those favorites to limit your choices, making it much easier to identify the best cheap option.
There are many different cheap cat food manufacturers out there competing for the taste buds of your cat and to protect their brand reputation.
With your chosen cat food in mind, you should aim to identify a manufacturer that’s open and honest about any issues with their cat food in the past. This should include steps they have taken to resolve the matter to ensure it will not happen again.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a list of recalls and other issues pet food manufacturers have had in the past.
The list helps you check and see how many recalls and issues a specific brand has when you’re stuck deciding between brands. In general, the ingredients made by brands with fewer recalls tend to be more trusted.
How to Read a Cat Food Label
Knowing what to look for in a cat food and how to read the label on the variety of diet options are vital in finding the best cheap cat food with the right ingredients for your cat. The label will help you answer a few critical questions as to whether the formula is healthy for your cat.
The right cat food should provide all the essential nutrients in sufficient quantity and the right amounts for your cat’s life stage. This means that the food should provide enough calories to maintain their body weight at their particular life stage (e.g., adult maintenance, kitten/growth, senior, etc.).
Any cat food that satisfies these basic dietary needs is considered “complete and balanced”. This should be stated on the food label, as the Nutritional Adequacy Statement by the AAFCO.
Additional label information required by the FDA includes the following:
- Product identification (what it is).
- Net quantity.
- Manufacturer or distributor name and address.
- Ingredient list.
The AAFCO recommends also including:
- Feeding directions.
- Guaranteed analysis.
- Caloric content.
This will help you understand what’s actually in your cat’s food. Most ingredients in cat food are unnecessary, cheap fillers, and low-quality meats. Long-term consumption of these poor-quality ingredients can cause a variety of health issues in your cat.
The Best Cheap Cat Food Picks
1. Iams Proactive Health—Best Overall
If you’re looking for a complete dry food that’s affordable, convenient, and available in a range of sizes, Iams has you covered with this Proactive Health formula.
The number one ingredient in this food is chicken, which means that your cat gets plenty of protein to keep its muscles strong. You also benefit from zero fillers so that you can reduce the risk of obesity.
The tailored fiber blend in this cat food is ideal for supporting digestive health. The essential nutrients include potassium and calcium for a healthy heart, but the food comes in only two flavors.
- Protein is the main ingredient.
- Dry pellets (easy to store).
- Range of size options to choose from.
- Great for healthy heart protection.
- Only two flavors available.
- Might not arrive in excellent condition.
2. 9Lives Daily Essentials Dry Cat Food—Best Dry Cat Food
9Lives Daily Essentials is our best pick for dry cat food and comes in other blends with different benefits and seven different sizes, ranging from 3.15 pounds to 28 pounds.
The food contains high-quality essential protein and fatty acids that help to maintain the transport system of your cat’s body, including the heart, blood vessels, and blood itself, muscles, coat, skin, and digestive health.
It also has a lower calorie content that helps to maintain your cat’s healthy weight and allows you to cut back a bit each day if you notice any weight gain. With this formula, your cat gets nutritious beef, chicken, and salmon as flavor profiles, with vegetables and grains, like whole wheat.
This dry cat food gives 100% complete and balanced nutrition, meaning that you can feed it to your cat at all life stages. The kibble is small enough for young and old cats to eat without having issues.
- Contains organ meats.
- Has a high amount of fatty acids.
- Comes in five different formulae.
- Has a higher level of meat meals, by-products, and artificial dyes.
- Contains grains.
3. Purina Friskies Wet Cat Food Variety Pack—Best Wet Cat Food
This Purina Friskies wet cat food variety pack is available in a combination of four different flavors: turkey and cheese, turkey dinner, chicken dinner, and chicken with gravy. Other options include beef, turkey and cheese, ocean whitefish and tuna, and chicken and salmon shreds in gravy.
While the thin fillets with gravy are easy for kittens to eat and digest, the softer texture means that senior cats can enjoy it, too. The very high moisture content in each can improves the ease of digestion, enabling your cat’s body to get the necessary nutrients in the formula.
Additionally, if your cat doesn’t like the fillet texture, there are meaty bits and prime cuts. The protein source is one of the first ingredients on the list, meaning that your cat will get organ meat in each serving.
With the 32-can pack, you can split a can into two meals, making the food last a month. This wet cat diet provides not only healthy muscle growth, skin, and coat, but also a 100% balanced diet to cats at all life stages.
- Available in several different textures.
- Has a higher moisture content.
- Comes in lots of flavors.
- Packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Has a strong smell.
- Tends to dry out if you don’t use it all in one day.
4. Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat Food—Best Grain-Free
If you’re looking for the best cheap cat food, but you don’t want any trade-off on grain, then this Taste of the Wild diet might be best for your cat. This dry cat food is available in a variety of flavors, with maximum essential amino acids.
The food contains high-quality protein that supports lean and strong muscles, as well as high-performance antioxidants and fatty acids, which are ideal for protecting your cat’s skin and coat.
It also gives highly digestible probiotics for gut health, but keep in mind that the smell is quite strong with this cheap cat food option.
- No grain.
- Excellent amino acid qualities.
- Antioxidants and nutrients.
- Highly digestible with probiotics.
- Smell is extraordinarily strong.
5. Diamond Naturals Indoor Cat Food—Best for Indoor Cats
This dry cat food is formulated especially for indoor cats and made with real cage-free chicken, peas, kale, blueberries, and coconut.
The diet is improved with bacteria and yeast (probiotics) that are good for your cat’s digestive system and support its overall health and development. It’s also improved with omega fatty acids to help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat, in addition to antioxidants and taurine, for overall well-being.
- Made with cage-free chicken.
- Promotes digestion.
- No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
- Has added vitamins and antioxidants.
- Contains chicken meal.
- Rice used as filler.
- High in carbohydrates.
6. Fancy Feast Flaked Fish & Shrimp Feast Canned Cat Food—Best for Diabetic Cats
In addition to insulin injections and blood glucose monitoring, a low-carbohydrate diet is the most powerful way to treat diabetes.
Instead of buying expensive food marketed for diabetic cats, it’s more cost-effective to opt for low-carbohydrate food.
Foods with less than 10% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis help to control blood sugar and may help your cat to go into diabetic remission, freeing you of the need to inject insulin at all.
This Fancy Feast recipe is ideal for diabetic cats, containing low carbohydrates and no artificial colors, flavors, or potentially harmful preservatives. It’s also low in calories, which may help diabetic cats to lose weight.
- Primarily made from animal protein sources.
- Low in carbohydrates.
- Doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or inflammatory preservatives.
- Contains vaguely-named ocean fish, which is likely not the highest-quality fish.
- Relies on vegetable oil instead of nourishing animal fat.
7. AvoDerm Wild By Nature Cat Food—Best Natural Blend
This AvoDerm Wild By Nature cat food is our pick for the best natural blend. It’s prepared with wild-caught fish and no grain. The food is a healthy balanced meal, with added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help to support your cat’s immune system and muscle development.
It’s also formulated to be rich in high-quality fats and oils with a balanced portion of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid for your cat’s coat and skin health. The cat food contains no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, corn, wheat, soy, or by-products.
- No by-products.
- All-natural ingredients.
- High-quality protein.
- Some cats refuse to eat it.
- Strange texture.
8. Stella & Chewy’s Chick Chick Chicken—Best Raw Diet
Raw cat food doesn’t have to be expensive. Stella & Chewy’s offers some of the most economical raw cat food on the market. In contrast to their rabbit recipe, this formula is relatively affordable.
This crowd-pleasing recipe contains chicken muscle meat, bone, liver, and gizzard as its primary ingredients. Its prey-inspired variety of animal parts delivers most of the nutrition your cat needs.
That strong meat base is added with digestion-strengthening probiotics and all the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids essential to your cat’s health.
This freeze-dried formula combines the nutritional benefits of raw food along with the safety of a processed product.
- A crowd-pleasing recipe that cats seem to love.
- Rich in animal-derived nutrition.
- Contains a range of probiotics to support digestive and immune health.
- Free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
- Grain-free and low-carbohydrate.
- One of the most economical raw cat foods you can buy.
- Freeze-dried food demands a few minutes of rehydration time.
- Not easy for kittens or seniors to eat.
Budgeting Considerations for Your Cat’s Food
Smart cat food budgeting involves not only buying the best cheap cat food on the market, but also other smart budgeting considerations.
Finding Affordable, High-Quality Cat Food
Pet food manufacturers formulate recipes to ensure the correct blend of ingredients according to life stage and lifestyle. Once you’ve established the right type for your cat, then consider the ingredient quality, which tells you how digestible the cat food is.
The better the ingredient quality, the more the food is digestible, and nutrients are absorbed in your cat’s body to maintain good health. The ingredients listed on the label should indicate the cat food quality.
Don’t Be Afraid To Vary Your Cat’s Diet and Try What’s on Sale
Mixing up your cat’s diet allows you to feed a combination of cheap, mid-priced, and expensive foods. A diverse diet also helps to reduce the impact of potential manufacturer slip-ups. This means a nutritional imbalance or bad batch won’t hit as hard if your cat only relies on a given food for a few meals a week.
So, when you see any good product on sale, grab it and take advantage of every opportunity you can get to save.
Other smart considerations include:
- Make homemade cat food if you’ve got a lot of time.
- Expand your cat food budget by saving elsewhere.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Canned Tuna Good for Cats?
Cats can be addicted to tuna, whether it’s packed for cats or for humans. Some tuna now and then probably won’t hurt as a treat. However, a regular diet of canned tuna will lead to malnutrition because it doesn’t have the essential nutrients that a cat requires. Additionally, eating too much tuna can potentially lead to mercury poisoning.
Is Vet-Recommended Cat Food Really Better?
While some vet-recommended food is fine, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. Surprisingly, most vet-recommended kibble contains inappropriate ingredients for cats, such as high amounts of grains and carbs.
Domestic cats are very similar to their wild ancestors. Naturally, they hunt for their prey and eat whole meat for animal protein and other essential nutrients.
Good-quality cooked cat food offers the benefit of reduced health risks with convenience and doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive to provide the essential nutrients your cat needs.
It’s also important to remember that cheap cat food doesn’t necessarily mean a poor-quality option. Inexpensive, good-quality food containing the essential nutrients from animal-based ingredients is perfect for keeping your cat healthy.
For that reason, we recommend Iams Proactive Health as the best overall cheap cat food for your cat. There are also plenty of other options on our list to suit your lifestyle and budget.
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